'Vibrant' portrait of the arts

14th October 2005 at 01:00
Primary teachers do not believe it is possible for them to teach every aspect of the expressive arts curriculum. They are not confident about teaching one or more areas of the expressive arts and welcome specialists into their classrooms.

Headteachers, however, warn that too much reliance on specialists could lead to deskilling of classroom teachers and a failure to link arts subjects with other subjects.

A survey into the expressive arts shows that primary teachers are generally happy with the expressive arts content of the 5-14 curriculum, but some have reservations about guidelines and assessment.

Secondary teachers, however, expressed concerns about curriculum content, either on the grounds of "dumbing down" or not addressing the needs of the workplace or further education.

The research, entitled "Delivering the arts in Scottish schools", was carried out by academics at Glasgow Caledonian and Strathclyde universities. It highlights the benefits of arts education in schools, but reveals concerns about resources, assessment and how the arts are valued.

The study, funded by the Scottish Executive, will be fed into the ongoing curriculum review, which aims to declutter the primary curriculum and encourage more cross-curricular teaching.

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "We welcome the views expressed by teachers in the report, and the vibrancy in arts education that emerges in the conclusions. This report will provide valuable feedback which will inform the development of A Curriculum for Excellence at each stage of progress. Work is under way to declutter the primary curriculum, and to overhaul the curriculum in S1-S3, across all curricular areas, including the expressive arts."

One of the key issues to emerge from interviews with six focus groups of primary, secondary and SEN teachers and headteachers from Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire was lack of space in the timetable and competition with other subjects.

Arts teachers in secondary said their subject demanded long hours and considerable work in their own time. But the opportunity to put in these hours was seen to be limited by the implementation of the teachers'

agreement and extra-curricular activities. Large projects were now difficult to accommodate.

In secondaries, specialist arts teachers said that timetabling did not support those wishing to combine arts and non-arts subjects.

Teachers also complained of lack of access to a suitable space for teaching music or drama, while properly maintained pianos were described as a scarce facility by one music specialist.

Insufficient budgets for art materials, CD players and instruments were also identified as an issue, while schools complained of the cost of transport for visits.

Primary teachers found that preparation and planning were more demanding than for other subjects.

The report states: "The limited time available for teaching the arts also meant there was not time to go into depth when assessing a child in those subjects, only to register whether that child was 'getting it' or not."

Specialist teachers working in primary identified particular challenges in assessment, given the difficulty of seeing hundreds of children of different ages from different classes or schools.

"The goals of expressive arts were also seen as being beyond academic results to some extent, instead being an arena for personal development where assessment was less relevant; the lack of a national test for expressive arts subjects reinforced this status. The headteachers saw this as part of the basis of the subjects' appeal for their staff, or part of what made it harder for them to focus on assessment in the expressive arts.

"Teachers, however, felt that their headteachers were often more concerned to see children achieving grades than creatively exploring.

"In contrast to this, the headteachers' (focus) group also felt that there was a risk of some teachers downplaying assessment in favour of free expression and that this could also represent a tactic for avoiding having to evaluate children's work."

Teachers gave a strong endorsement of visits from external professionals, praising in particular the National Youth Choir of Scotland, students from Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (through the Goals project), Scottish Ballet, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, TAG theatre company, African drummers and artists in residence.

Headteachers were more equivocal. While they acknowledged many positive aspects of external contributions, such as raising children's awareness of the arts and enriching the basic curriculum, they also had some reservations about the practical difficulties.

The report says: "Visiting artists or performers were not necessarily trained to deliver educational objectives, or indeed work with children.

They often did not want to work with whole classes, which created administrative difficulties. Also, it was not always possible for schools to assess what could be gained, the quality of a project, or its potential benefit to them, before booking it."

Arts subjects were seen as an arena where children with difficulties in other subjects could shine. Many teachers spoke of the gains in confidence or self-esteem that their pupils made through arts learning. It was also seen as an area of the curriculum that developed general social skills, such as teamwork and co-operative skills.

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